Chief Blair walks through Yorkville

[attach]4966[/attach]The morning of Sept. 22 was not a good time to be a criminal in Yorkville.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, along with more than a dozen of his officers both on foot and bicycle, spent part of the day patrolling the high-end shopping district around Bay Street and Bloor Street West.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come out, meet some people, see how my officers are interacting with the public and just let people know that we work for them, we’re paying attention to their concerns,” said Blair.

Police from 53 Division accompanied Blair as he toured the neighbourhood and met with business owners to determine what crime and safety issues exist in the area and how they could be addressed. He was also joined by Gee Chung, president of the Greater Yorkville Residents’ Association, and Alex Stuart, managing partner of The Pilot Tavern where the walkabout began and ended.

“Our biggest problem is aggressive panhandlers,” Chung said before the walk began. “Being that it’s Yorkville it becomes a magnet in the summertime.”

No panhandlers were encountered during the walk, but 53 Division Staff Sergeant Peter Henry said he is aware that panhandling can have an adverse affect on businesses.

“We try to meet the needs of the business while still being sensitive to the needs of the panhandlers,” Henry said. “We try to get them in contact with the right government agencies to try and get them some more long term housing.”

[attach]4967[/attach]The chief took time to stop and smell the roses while visiting a local flower shop. From there the group stopped by the offices of the Retail Council of Canada.

Yorkville has a reputation for being an upscale, affluent area but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of crime. Organized crime, particularly theft, seemed to be the biggest crime and safety issue in the community.

“This is not a place where there’s a lot of violent crime but it’s still a place where there’s public disorder or theft and that can be a pretty significant issue on the success of the neighbourhood,” Blair said.

Nationwide, theft accounts for $3 billion in losses to retail stores each year, according to Matthew Hall, senior manager of member programs at the council. He said he would like to connect police to the Data Share system, which collects and stores crime data, in order to make it easier for them to apprehend shoplifters. The chief promised to have a further discussion with the council about that idea and others.

From there the chief and his entourage stopped for a quick chat at a deli before heading off to Gallery Gevik. Owner Phillip Gevik told the chief his gallery of paintings and sculptures has been broken into and robbed three times in the last two years. He said the paintings alone were worth $50,000, not to mention the cost of the damage to the shop.

“He had questions about where the investigation was going and also what steps he could take to protect his business,” Blair said of Gevik. “It was very obvious from looking at his business that there were things that he could do and that we could help him do to make it much less likely that he would be a victim in the future.”

The group made a couple more stops before making its way back to The Pilot for refreshments. Blair, who lives close by, said he was very encouraged to see some retailers knew his officers by name.

“I want my officers accessible to the neighbourhoods they serve,” Blair said. “I want them visible, I want them to wear their name tags, I want people in the community to know them and I want them to know their communities.”